The Seahawks are off to a 4-0 start for only the second time in franchise history, and while the Vikings haven't gotten off to the start they'd like, Seattle knows this week's opponent is much tougher than its 1-3 record might indicate.
"They've played a tough schedule, they had good teams that they've played, they've been in the games," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "They can do a lot of stuff. They got big-time firepower on offense. This is a defensive scheme that we've always respected, because of coach (Mike) Zimmer and what how he does it. It's very difficult to get an edge on their defense, they do such a marvelous job of mixing stuff. They're really skilled at all of that. It's a real tough matchup anytime you play these guys, because he's got a great team, they always play well."
If the Seahawks are going to improve to 5-0 for the first time in franchise history, these are three key matchups in Sunday night's game against the Vikings.
1. Vikings running back Dalvin Cook vs. Seattle's run defense.
Dalvin Cook is backing up a Pro-Bowl 2019 campaign early on this season, leading the NFL with a league-best 424 rushing yards and six touchdowns, and he's not putting up those numbers just based on volume. Cook is averaging an impressive 5.7 yards per carry, in no small part because he has caused an NFL-high 21 missed tackles this season according to Pro Football Focus.
"You just have to bring your feet," Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "He's a guy who's going to continue to run his feet on contact, so I think that's the reason why he's breaking so many tackles, because guys are hitting him and stopping, and he keeps going. It's definitely fun to watch him run the ball, so it's going to be fun to play against them, get in the backfield and just tackle him. It's just being disciplined on tackling, your tackling plan, and just making sure you drive your feet and not let him keep going."
The Seahawks haven't seen a lot of rushing attempts against them this year, in no small part because they've been playing from ahead so often, but they've been really good when teams have tried to run, allowing just 3.4 yards per carry, the third best mark in the NFL.
The Vikings do have an explosive passing game led by the receiving duo of Adam Thielen and rookie Justin Jefferson, but their offense all starts with Cook and the running game, so the Seahawks know they'll have their work cut out for them there.
2. Russell Wilson and the big-play passing game vs. an elite safety duo.
Yes, the Vikings are young and relatively inexperienced at cornerback, but that doesn't mean it will be an easy evening for Russell Wilson, Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf and the rest of Seattle's passing attack, especially if they want to attack the middle of the field, because in Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, Minnesota has one of the NFL's top safety duos.
Smith has been a Pro-Bowler each of the past five seasons and is a two-time All-Pro, and last season saw the emergence of Harris, in his first year as a starter tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions, a season that was strong enough for the Vikings to place the franchise tag on him this offseason.
"The safeties are both terrific veteran players," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "They've seen a ton of football. They're in a scheme that allows them to impact the game with the way they blitz, with the way they disguise coverage. And the really cool thing when you look at what they do, Minnesota defensively with Zimmer and his staff, the balance of what they do is really crazy when you look at it—the number of pressures in base versus sub, the amount of times that Harris comes versus the amount of time that Harrison comes is crazy. There's just unbelievable balance. It's hard to get a tell on them. Some of the split safety stuff that they do, they take chances, they're willing to take risks to try to make plays on the ball. If there's a better combo of safeties in the league, you know we haven't seen them yet probably this year—obviously ours are really good here."
3. Vikings defensive end Yannick Ngakoue vs. Seahawks left tackle Duane Brown.
Yannick Ngakoue, who was one of Minnesota's big offseason acquisitions, hasn't disappointed since arriving in a trade with Jacksonville. Ngakoue has recorded four sacks in the past three games, including two in last week's win over Houston, and has forced a pair of fumbles.
He usually lines up on the right side of Minnesota's defense, which means standing in his way will be Seattle's Pro-Bowl left tackle Duane Brown, who at 35 is still playing at an elite level. Carroll, Schottenheimer and Wilson have mentioned on numerous occasions how much the improved pass protection has made a difference for the offense and this season, but with Ngakoue leading the way, keeping a clean pocket for Wilson will be a tough challenge, even if the Vikings' overall pass-rush numbers beyond Ngakoue haven't been overly impressive through four games.
"Really good player, very strong, very quick first step," Schottenheimer said. "Excellent speed to power rush. I think you see him get more comfortable, you watch first couple games and then you watch his last game against Houston and he looks more comfortable, maybe with what they're asking him to do so. Again, that's where I don't always believe the numbers. I watch the film and I see it—and it's not just him—they do a tremendous job of getting pressure on the quarterback. With the coverages that they are playing behind it, they're betting that if they can get a push, that you're going to force people to make mistakes. I still think they're a very formidable group."